Labor Day weekend is the best and worst of times. For working adults, it’s probably the last three days of unimpeded summer fun. For most students, it’s the last gasp of summer vacation before the long slog to June starts once again.

Those going back to school (all young people) and those who remember going back to school (all older people) share a common kinship. We all know that sinking feeling as the last days of August fly by way too quickly. We try to hold onto them, but they slip by, like dry sand through toes on a beach.

Even a shopping spree is ruined when the reason for it is examined. Must get those dreaded pencils and notebooks, those new jeans, those new shoes. Worse still, TV and newspaper advertising fliers start reminding us of back-to-school sales way before they should. Such party-poopers those Staples and Walmart circulars have become. And that stomach-turning, back-to-school dread never really leaves either. The word “September” is forever tainted.

Why the negative connotation? Probably because everything changes in September. And change is scary. We all know the first-day jitters of a new classroom, that new teacher, those new demands and expectations. It was tough to change from our carefree summertime mode to the hard-charging, up-early, homework-until-bedtime routine of the fall. What a drag. Such a drag that most students at one point or another asks themselves, what’s the point? What’s the use? When am I ever going to use a quadratic equation as an adult? Why do I need to know what a rhyming couplet is, and who cares about the temperature of magma.

State and national leaders tend to talk a lot about how they’re going to revamp education and make test scores go up and up. New educational regimes seem to come out of Augusta and Washington, D.C., on a regular basis: No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, Maine Learning Results, Common Core Standards are but a few of the dictums of the past and present. Remember how the Maine Department of Education’s latest and greatest grading system for schools was greeted by outrage by some but a yawn by most? Leaders have cried wolf too many times regarding educational changes. They’ve changed their minds and methods so many times, we can’t keep them straight anymore.

Beyond curriculum, our schools are being remodeled on the outside, as well, and usually at a cost of many millions of dollars. Security systems get installed, buildings become larger, and especially in recent years, technology has taken over, further driving up the cost of education.

Despite all these changes – some of them good, some not so good – one thing remains the same from generation to generation. School is important. It matters. For those pondering the real-world benefits of education and learning in general – even those perplexing quadratic equations – here’s a little advice from wise scholars from years’ past:

“What sculpture is to a block of marble,? education is to the human soul.”?

– Joseph Addison, English essayist, poet, playwright and politician

“Education makes a people easy to lead? but difficult to drive: easy to govern, but impossible to enslave.”?

–Henry Peter Brougham, English politician

“It is in fact a part of the function of education to help us escape, not from our own time – for we are bound by that – but from the intellectual and emotional limitations of our time.”?

–T.S. Eliot, American poet

“The beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you.”

?–B.B. King, American blues musician

“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.”

– Carl Sagan, American astronomer

“Only the educated are free.”

– Epictetus, Greek philosopher

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”

– W.B. Yeats, Irish poet

“The educated differ from the uneducated as much as the living differ from the dead.”

– Aristotle, Greek philosopher

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

– Nelson Mandela, South African politician

– John Balentine, managing editor


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